Coarse Grain to Creamy Side Dish: Polenta

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Polenta is one of our weeknight dinner mainstays. With Marcella Hazen’s no-stir polenta technique, it’s easy to make a pot while the rest of dinner prep goes on. And once made, there are so many ways we can use that polenta all week long.

Polenta the dish can be made from many things. The ingredient labeled “polenta” is most often coarsely-ground or finely-ground cornmeal. In fact, we can use plain old everyday yellow cornmeal interchangeably with actual polenta. Polenta can also be made from ground semolina, as is traditional in Northern Italy, or even ground buckwheat. Each has their own unique character and flavor.

When cooked with water or broth and finished with a handful of cheese, these grains turn into a thick, creamy porridge. A scoop of polenta is the perfect accompaniment to braised meat, hearty ragus, grilled vegetables, or roast chicken. One of my favorite weeknight meals is simply polenta topped with wilted greens and a fried egg.

Polenta will gradually firm up as it cools. If you pour leftover polenta into a loaf pan or 8×8 baking dish and refrigerate, the next day it will be thick enough to cut. You can roast the polenta cubes (or make polenta fries!), grill whole pieces, or dissolve them into soup to make a thicker stew. This firm polenta is also the start of Tuscan Polenta Gnocchi: layer rounds of firm polenta with cheese and bake until crisp and bubbly.

Give polenta a try with some of these dishes:

What do you do with polenta?